Right way of farming' is long-term solution: PM Lee

A worker stands as he looks on at fire from burning trees planted for palm oil, during haze at Bangko Pusako district in Rokan Hilir, on Indonesia's Riau province, June 24, 2013.

SINGAPORE - The long-term solution to the haze problem is to instil the "right way of farming" in Indonesia, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday.

Speaking to Ang Mo Kio residents at a dialogue, he said this would mean that farmers would not resort to burning as a "short cut" to clear land for crop planting.

Singapore has been attempting to nudge the Indonesians towards sustainable practices, such as through a joint project in Jambi which promotes such agricultural practices to farmers and plantation owners.

The pact is up for renewal and PM Lee said that Singapore wants to extend it, and hopes that the Indonesians agree.

But he also noted that the authorities there face challenging obstacles in tackling the root cause of the haze, including the sheer size of the land area which is burning, and corruption.

He pointed out that the area over which forest fires are burning is much bigger than the whole of Singapore. Singapore's small size means the authorities are able to enforce laws easily and quickly.

This is not the case in Indonesia, he said, using the Chinese proverb "shang you zheng ce, xia you dui ce" (Whatever laws are handed down, the people on the ground will find ways around them).

One resident at the dialogue asked PM Lee about the detention last month of Riau governor Rusli Zainal by the Indonesian Corruption Eradication Commission. He is a suspect in a graft case involving the illegal exploitation of forests by logging companies.

Riau is ground zero of the forest fires producing the haze.

PM Lee said that he had heard the same thing about Mr Rusli, adding: "So these are the real problems in Indonesia."


Haze affects Malaysia
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Emergency declared in Malaysia as API surpasses 750
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Smoke from hotspots blanket Riau province
Click on thumbnail to view (Photos: Hang Nadim Meteorological Station, ST, Reuters, AFP, Sarawak Conservation Alliance for Natural Environment)


He struck a sanguine note when another resident lamented that Singapore is "crippled" when it comes to fighting the haze as there is nothing it can do to stop the burning.


"This is our lot in life," replied Mr Lee in Mandarin.

"These are our neighbours. We can't change them. The responsibility for solving this problem is with Indonesia."

Separately, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, who heads the haze inter-ministerial task force formed last week, told reporters that Singapore "stands ready to give assistance to Indonesia if asked".

He said that he has asked the Singapore Armed Forces to be on standby: "There is an open offer if they need assets that we have to help them in this firefighting. We are ready to go."

But Singapore respects and recognises Indonesia's sovereignty, and "we can only go if they ask us", he said.

Mr Lee and other ministers, in their efforts to distribute masks to residents around the island yesterday, also highlighted the efforts of the Singapore Armed Forces and People's Association in getting the masks around the island.

Meanwhile, Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong said Singapore is likely to stick to hosting the 2015 SEA Games in June, rather than move it to a different part of the year for fear that it could be hit by the haze. There is no "perfect window", he said, adding that efforts should be focused on preventing the haze from recurring and preparing the Republic.

At Ang Mo Kio GRC where he is an MP, PM Lee also announced that three blocks in Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1 had been selected for the Home Improvement Programme which will fix problems in ageing flats such as ceiling leaks.


Additional reporting by Jalelah Abu Baker, Lim Yi Han and May Chen

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